THESE BEGGARS ARE BOTHERSOME

The beggars have really been bothering me lately.

They always put me in a public spectacle, testing my generosity and Christian concern. They make me think long and hard about injustice and poverty. And the longer I think, the less solutions I come up with.

Sometimes I see them from a distance, and cross the street on the far side like a bad Samaritan.

They bother me because a few coins probably won’t make an eternal difference. I hate the hollow sound of a coin clinking in the empty can

of a one-armed girl in tattered clothing;
of a pained mother with an infant in her arms;
of the old man, out of work, out of cash, out of hope.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not that stingy. I always give a few coins. Sometimes I give a 20 Peso bill. Other times I hand out a crumpled 5 Yuan donation.

That’s big of me, isn’t it?

A coin helps a little. A bill even more. But I wonder what kind of riches a hug would bring to “one of the least of these.”

In fact, I’m just trying to recall when the last time was that I actually touched someone who asked for a small offering.

These beggars are bothering me because I know that my infinitesimal contribution won’t last long. Plus, I don’t have enough time between point A and B to teach a man to fish.

It was a sidewalk encounter.
They spotted me and blitzed.
It was a targeted attack.

But let me interject for clarity’s sake.

These are not the “will work for food” bums you usually see. Or the bolder, more honest “will work for alcohol” bunch. The combination of soap and a razor blade on scruffy chin would make a world of difference for them. Or simply the will to work, even if it’s just for minimum wage.

Because minimum wage in the West is luxurious where I live.

Yes, I am biased. Yes, perhaps I am more inclined to support the beggar in an underdeveloped/developing region of the world than I am to give to the cause of my own countrymen.

Recently I was sitting with a friend in Xian, China. A 40 year old mother with baby slung around her back approached us while we sat under the Bell Tower at Starbucks. Her eyes were as hollow as the hand she outstretched imploringly.

“Do you want to give her a few coins?” I asked.
“I don’t give to beggars, man,” my friend said. “I worked hard for what I got.”

Ouch. Not everyone believes it’s better to give than to receive, I guess.

There are escape routes to poverty, but sometimes the passage is a tiny fissure covered with dirty plastic bags and cigarette butts and lack of education.

The gutters get clogged with trash.
Cardboard box homes disintegrate.
All turns back to mud, then when the storm subsides, dust.

I am upset for these beggars because of the descending spiral they are caught up in. Like an endless flush, they swirl around and aroud and.

The tattered clothing of the one-armed girl is dirtier than I remember.
The bare feet of the frail mother cradling her infant needs washing.
The hopeless old man looks on the verge of a sad emotional storm.

The truth is, I am involved with community development and poverty alleviation. There are countless people I have helped and inspired through the efforts of Within Reach Global. Our staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to impact whole villages. Peoples’ lives have been transformed. Hope shines all around.

But facetime with the ones slipping through the gaps is a hard pill for me to swallow.

Wait.

There is a scrawny boy outside the window, tapping on the pane as the rain water logs his t-shirt. “Sir. Coins.” His lips move but I hear nothing. He’s actually more cute than bothersome.

I’ll be right back.

The rest of my contemplations will have to wait. I’m gonna go give him a hug and a coin, and voluntarily make a fool of myself.

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MY OTHER ME’S

In the alternate universes that I wish I believed in, life might be so different for my other me’s.

The television show Fringe makes me thoughtful. I think about what my alternate self ponders. I wonder what my “Walternate” is like. Is he more secure than I am? Is he happy with the life he is living? Is he wishing he had a life more like mine?

One path has so many intersections.
One decision creates so many possibilities.
One choice has so many ripples.

If I was a Calvanist: this is the life God has chosen for me.
If I was an Armenianist: this is the life I have chosen.

I chose the path less traveled, going instead where there was no path to make my own tiny trails. And although there are times I dream of a different set of circumstances, I am satisfied with where I am now.

The storyline has been muddled at unique intervals. Confusion abounded and I craved a new horizon. But then I stood on top of that mountain ridge, overlooking the China/Myanmar border in Wa country. “The smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary had ever been” rose and dissipated into the pink hues of dusk. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. A silent whisper found its way from my lips: “Thank you, God, for calling me to be a missionary.”

“If God has called you to be a missionary, don’t stoop to be a king.”
~Charles Spurgeon

But still, I sometimes wonder where I might be had I taken a different course in life. The endless spider web fractures spread lines in every direction of possibility.

If only I could see my very own alternate me’s, the contrast of some versions might look like this:

David Joannes: acclaimed author and New York Times best seller.
David Joannes: film director for such movies as every one of your favorites.
David Joannes: rich and powerful Forbes 100 top billionaires.
David Joannes: wanderlust vagabond.

But the antonyms may include more similes than I had previously considered.

“If you’re brilliant and undiscovered and under appreciated, then you’re being too generous about your definition of brilliant.”
~Seth Godin

I have come to grips with the fact that “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

It’s the narrative God is writing about me. It’s uniquely my own. Want to trade? Want to take a stroll in my shoes? You can’t, and you don’t truly want to anyway.

It would be nice to define myself in more exciting terms. I would charm you with my elaborate adjectives and perfectly crafted euphemisms. The thing is, there really isn’t a label that adequately defines any of us.

Cameron Strang of Relevant Magazine provokingly refers to himself as a “magazine/media publisher, husband, dad, Christian, design nerd, podcaster, and sports fan. But don’t label me.”

The other me’s in my would-be alternate universes are a far off dream. They will just have to go on appreciating life without crossing through the portal bridge of their universe to switch places with me.

In the meantime, I think I’ll enjoy the right here and now of the life God has given me.

TRAGIC JOY

 

Yesterday I saw a photo of my wife just after she had undergone surgery. She was leaning on my shoulder as I helped her walk back from the bathroom to her hospital bed. I leaned into the photo. She was grimacing in excruciating pain.

As I stared at the image, all the emotions of her recent surgery rushed back to me. They struck me. They caught me off guard and I began to weep.

I remember waiting for 13 hours while she was in the operating room. It was much longer than Doctor Tan said it would be. Fear gripped me.

“Is she okay?”
“Why is it taking so long?”
“Is she still alive?”

I was transported 5 months back in time. Everything was intensely crystal. I time traveled to that exact moment. I smelled that pungent hospital scent. I heard echoes of nurses in the hallway outside her hospital room.

Here I was, staring at the photo, while my wife sat next to me. “It’s okay now,” she whispered. I was whisked back to the present moment. “I’m okay now.”

But she was more than okay. She was 3 months pregnant with the child we had prayed and waited for for more than 8 years. For nearly a decade she had been unable to conceive because of her crippling endometriosis. I looked at her belly. A bump was growing. A new life was being formed. A miracle was happening right before my eyes. Life had taken a sudden turn for the better.

The tragedy of years of infertility was fading away.

“You have stage 4 endometriosis,” they said.
“You will never have a child,” they said.
“Your wife’s surgery is potentially fatal,” they reminded me.

I clearly remembered the details of the accumulation of time, but joy began to replace tragedy. A smile curled around my lips as tears streaked down my cheeks.

“It’s okay now,” she whispered, and I kissed her belly.

I thought of the bigness of God. I was amazed and confused at how he sees across the span of time.

I thought, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Peace filled my heart. The sense of tragedy did not sting as much as it had before.

The seed was quiet for a long time, buried and unnoticed. It died. But then the kernel split, and a green stem burst out. It found its way to the surface of the earth, and pushed its way through the crust. It closed its tiny eyes and bathed in the sunlight.

Time stopped.
Or maybe time began then.
Or maybe time was irrelevant.

Life is a mix of tragedy and joy. Every good story needs both parts.

It is the ebb and flow.
It is the fall and rise.
It is the climactic value we so appreciate about a good story.

Like when my mother cried as I left home to become a missionary to China.
Like the long river walk that I took when I found out my parents were getting divorced.
Like when our truck almost slipped off the cliff on our mission trip to the China/Myanmar border.
Like when the monthly boxes of failed pregnancy tests were strewn on the garbage cans of our memories.

Until that last pregnancy test, when 2 beautiful red bars appeared out of nowhere!

I pray that in the midst of the tragic moments, I would be able to see the beauty of every season. I pray that I would believe a little more that God’s got the whole world in his hands, and he knows what’s best for me.

After all, my wife’s miraculous pregnancy—and our little bundle of joy on the way—would not be the incredible narrative that it is without the backstory.

Find out what happens next at Everything Is New.

I AM NOT A BEGGAR, I AM AN ADVOCATE


(Photo by Antony Giblin)

“Have we really started fundraising, or have we just sent a few emails?”

That’s the question I’m considering right now, for myself and for our team at Within Reach Global. Most of the time I’m afraid we are not bold enough to share the needs in our personal lives and in the ministry.

A sign of weakness?
What if they say no?
The tricky thoughts can go on forever.

And yet, we are simply conduits of God’s blessing to the nations. For Within Reach Global, we are channels of blessing to the unreached tribes of Southeast Asia.

But sometimes we think we are beggars. We think that every email we send out is a cry for cash, and we are embarrassed by it. Meanwhile, God has strategically placed us in this ministry to be a voice for the voiceless. What? Now we’re afraid to open our mouths?

We need to shout louder than Coca Cola, because Jesus is more important than fizzy pop.
We need to post more than Starbucks, because eternity trumps a caramel frappuccino.

“He who shouts the loudest gets heard,” a friend of mine told me about fundraising. “You have to be bold enough to sell hard, because that’s the way our culture goes.”

I finally snapped out of beggar mentality in 2002.

I was on a 24 hour one-way trip to Wa country on the China/Myanmar border. I had been church planting hard for years among this tribe, and had started to see breakthrough. After a couple of days sharing our lives and the gospel, my L5S1 disc shifted, and my back went out. I could not stand. Some young men scooped me up into the back of a handheld tractor, and began the 14 kilometer decent toward the hospital. A tiny Wa granny held me in her lap and stroked my head as I bumped over the excruciating dirt road.

I saw the moon, pale and grey.
I saw the silhouettes of roadside bamboo.
I saw the care in granny’s eyes, looking down at me like I was a baby.

Then, in my weakness, it struck me.

The former headhunting Wa tribe—one of the sweetest people groups I know—were lost without remedy.

Their lostness was stifling.
The fields were white for harvest, but there were not enough harvesters.
And no one had a voice to tell the world.

In my weakness it struck me. I was a voice for the voiceless.
I could be the pioneer missionary,
the church planter,
the fundraiser,
the connecter,
the one who fills the gap.

After being knocked out by drugs on the China/Myanmar border for a few days, my back felt better. But I was never able to thank that granny. I can’t recall her features. I never found her again.

But I can say “thank you” to my Wa granny through my advocacy.
I can raise awareness of the lostness of this unreached tribe.
I can inspire others to join prayerfully and financially.

But I need to shout over the noise of 21st century advertising, and I’m not afraid to do that. I’m not embarrassed because I believe in my cause. I believe in reaching those who have yet to hear the name of Jesus.

“Shout the news of his victory from sea to sea, Take the news of his glory to the lost, News of his wonders to one and all!”
~Psalm 96:2-3

A few people saying “no” to my request for funds doesn’t faze me.
Those who hear my cause and are inspired to join me make it all worth it.

You see, i am not a beggar, I am an advocate.


(Donate to Within Reach Global today.)

“Face it. Competition has never been greater. There are more people competing for the one thing that is finite: other people’s attention. And you’re in competition with everyone else who wants a slice of it.”
~Michael Hyatt

THE SAVIOR WHO SMELLS OF SAWDUST AND PAINT

I am in the middle of a handful of DIY projects, woodworking for our new, small condo in Manila. I’m building bookshelves, stand-alone shelving, tables, cabinets and a bed. It’s been enjoyable for me to sweat like a man.

And as I saw, sand and screw planks and two by fours together on my seventh floor balcony, I ponder a lot of things. My mind slows, and I consider the delicacies of relations past and present, the people I miss and those who I am unfortunately apologetic that, though we were once so close, I have fallen out of touch with their meaningful daily rituals. I wish I knew their kids’ names. I wish we could Skype.

I measure a piece of plywood and begin to cut. The loud sound of my circular saw echoes back to me from the skyscraper opposite ours. I apply a thumbful of wood putty to my cabinet. I think of Jesus, and who he really was, and “did the Savior of the world really smell of sawdust and paint?”

All I know of Jesus before age thirty is that he was born in a manger, then ten years later, ran away from his parents to catch a church service. The rest of the Biblical account is blank. But wait, wasn’t he carpenter?

I wonder if Jesus’ mind slowed to consider the relationships in his life, and if he thought of them in the bigger God-scheme of life—that he was the rescue sent to his buddies and cousins and parents. My mind slows again as I think of all these things. I think, “who are you, Jesus? Who are you really?”

Am I becoming a little bit more like Jesus as I cut and assemble wood? The Savior who smells of sawdust and wood putty makes a little more sense to me as my DIY projects begin to take shape.